Many years ago, there was a movement afoot to construct wooden sidewalks and fake fronts for the buildings on Virginia Street. This in effect would create a modern day Virginia City for tourists to enjoy.
At that point in time, Reno was a wide-shouldered small town that apologized to no one. In fact, the Biggest Little City was a place where the rugged individual felt most at home. Many expatriates from the East found it a safe haven, particularly if they were a little more eccentric than their fellowmen.
Show business, politicians and other celebrities from all walks of life crowded into the tiny 24-hour town. Miners, Cowboys and Indians roamed the streets at will. Prior to the legalizing of gaming, divorce was the main industry in many of the guest ranches that populated the area. Of those, Harry Drackert’s Donner Ranch was the most prestigious. The gay divorcees appreciated the Western way of life that they had only previously seen in motion pictures.
When gaming came to the fore, Reno quickly turned into a 24-hour a day operation. As the casinos grew in popularity, big-time entertainment was added. It was then that the idea of making Reno a quasi- Western town, ala Scottsdale, Arizona was floated about.
Unfortunately, the idea never took hold and Reno became a mish-mash of several competing architectural styles. A big tourist draw that surfaced was the creation of major Special Events. The most prominent of which was the annual Silver Spurs award. The following is a history of the Spurs that I penned for the Reno Rodeo program.
“One of Reno’s most successful Western-styled promotions was the annual award of the ‘Silver Spurs’ that ran from 1950 to 1965. The original presentation was made by the Reno Chamber of Commerce in 1950 to John Wayne and Director John Ford.
The idea was to create a Western ‘Oscar’ to be awarded to the most popular cowboy movie star in America for the preceding year. Later, as Western motion pictures fell out of favor it was awarded to the most popular TV Western stars.
Many of the locals who participated in the 16-year run of the ‘Spurs’ have long advocated that if a Celluloid Cowboy Hall of Fame is ever established, it should be located somewhere in Reno. The initial award was an easy choice for the Chamber, because Wayne and Ford had worked together on such epic films as, She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, Fort Apache, The Searchers, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The Horse Soldiers and Rio Bravo. Even today, Wayne still reigns as the top iconic American cowboy.”
The RSCVA is currently adopting a new marketing slogan without any reference to Western culture and that is truly a shame.
Perhaps the RSCVA should look to John Ascuaga’s Nugget, which calls its annual rib cook-off ‘The Best in the West.’
Harry Spencer is a long-time northern Nevada resident.